Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why You Should Hire Me As An Interpreter

I've been a French teacher for ove a decade and in order to become one, I had to pass a test that said I could speak French adequately and therefore probably could teach it. At least at the lower level.

I've enjoyed the French language since I first heard it when I was 6 and had it once a week at school. After high school, I had no plans to continue speaking French, but we know how things never go the way they are planned. So, here I am, teaching others how to speak French, hoping someone catches the bug like I did.  At least one person has as one of my former students got married in France to a real, live French man last year.  Phew, my job is done.

I don't usually fancy myself as bilingual and I am sure that anyone who is French and speaks with me at length would attest to that. But, I can certainly make myself understood and manage quite well when I am in a French speaking country. I have never been in an emergency and had to speak French, but I am pretty certain that I could at least communicate my needs and get the help I needed. And understand what they were going to do to help me.  I like to hope so, anyway.

In the summer, we have a great influx of Canadians around the first week of August, and I always get excited when they are from Quebec and I might be able to speak French to them. Last week, we had more Quebecois in the park than Americans!  People form Quebec are called Quebecois in French.  We don't really have a good English word, so when they talk about themselves in English, they call themselves "quebekkers" and are totally fine with that.


We Americans are always fascinated by the tiny little trailers and vans that Quebekkers come in for camping and this group of 3 did not disappoint.  Two little Westphalia vans and the tiniest, ancient trailer.  For 6 adults and 5 kids.  We can't have tents, so I can't even imagine how 11 bodies fit in this situation.

But, I got to speak French to them.  And that has to be worth the price of admission.

There was also another Westphalia with a couple who stayed for almost 2 weeks and I was able to talk to them just about every day, sometimes for a long time.  They even came to my monthly Table Francaise group and shared a pot luck with us and were amazed that we crazy Americans really speak French to each other when we get together once a month.

As I was talking to this couple, I found myself saying some things that really blew my mind.  Some phrases fell out of my mouth that I didn't even know I had mastered.  It's always the tricky phrases that separate the truly bilingual from the fakers.  Like the phrase "it's not worth it" is like the most difficult thing for me to master, but I think I might have.  Another one is "I realized"  I think if a person can say that properly, no other test should need to be administered because that is one stinker of a phrase.

We had quite lengthy discussions about our jobs.  Mine is pretty simple to explain, but hers is something along the lines of a registrar for GED or technical type education and it took a while to understand.  We discussed the recession.  We discussed some animals that are endangered around here.  We talked at length about where to ride their bikes.  We talked about our favorite activities.  We talked about how disappointed they were with Nantucket.

And all the while, I was really pleased that I could uphold a pretty rapid conversation and not sound like a dolt.  Most of the time.  I have to credit these monthly Table Francaise meetings with some of it.  Speaking real French, beyond French 1, with adults once a month does keep me on my toes.

But, with all of my self praise that you just read about, you really should hire me as an interpreter because I would provide you endless entertainment.  Even in English, my brain goes far faster than my mouth, so I can never keep up and I can't ever find the words I want on the spot.  I'm always great for thinking of comebacks like 5 minutes after the fact.

Imagine that in another language.  I can go on and on about very intricate topics and then say something very brilliant like "his/her mother was/is going to the store" which is like basic French.  And I realize I'm doing it, but I can't stop myself.  Or correct myself.  A wall just goes up and that's when I start gesturing. 

Or someone can say the most common thing, like "did you get up early this morning" and my brain just stops and can't decipher any of it.   I start to panic with an internal dialog going "that's French, right?  I know that's French right?  What does it mean???  Wait does this mean I can't really speak French????"

I can only imagine that if I were an interpreter for say, the government, and could pass all of the tests, and manage to tell someone how to disarm a nuclear weapon, it would be in the moment when I need to tell the disarmer what to do with that crucial last wire, and my brain would take a break. 

And I'd toss in the odd English word, typically that word is "you know", like that will help anything.

And then my undiagnosed ADD would kick in and I'd be off in never never land thinking about bread.  Or something.

And have you ever realized that  interpreters are literally speaking while the person is speaking?  That's the part that fascinates me the most.  I know that I can talk while someone is talking and I will still get the gist of what they are saying, but there is no way I could do it verbatim.  And ongoing.  And sometimes, these interpreters are in horribly loud places with bombs going off and they manage to stay focused.

I'd be too busy thinking about what great fodder the situation would be for my blog and I'd forget all about what I was doing.

Linking with Finding the Funny.

4 comments:

  1. I'm like this with Spanish. I really should do some meetings like yours or continue to take classes to keep fresh. I do watch telenovelas :) But when it comes time to really speak it, I clam up. I can absolutely understand what they are saying to me, and I know what I want to say in return, but it comes out in the worst Spanglish EVER.

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  2. Here is a new challenge to offer yourself and your Table Francaise friends - Have you ever tried to play a word game like TABOO or BUZZ WORDS in French?
    A group of played (in English) last night and both were a challenge, even while sober.

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  3. Yes, I've played them in French. Unfortunately, when I've tried to institute game night for Table Francaise, no one will play. I've tried it twice. The first time, I announced that we were going to play a cultural bingo game and everyone left!! I play a modified version of Bananagrams with my French students and even the beginners do much better than I would ever imagine, when left to their own devices. It's one of their favorite things to do!

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  4. I was never able to pick up a second language because my brain can barely handle English on most days.

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